Congress revised Article 32 in the FY14 NDAA, eliminating the longstanding practice of a thorough pretrial investigation of charges prior to referral to a general court-martial, and replacing it with a more limited preliminary hearing. I analyzed the new statute shortly after it was enacted, in this post. The statute was slightly modified in the FY15 NDAA, making it effective for all hearings conducted on or after December 26, 2014 (discussed here).
Even though the new statute is in effect, the Manual for Courts-Martial has not been revised (though the JSC has proposed revisions, discussed here and here). In particular, R.C.M. 405 details the procedure for an Article 32 pretrial investigation, and it has not been modified to reflect the new statutory framework of a preliminary hearing. The Manual is promulgated under the President’s rulemaking authority contained in Article 36, and it is controlling for all of the services.
Nevertheless, two service secretaries have issued implementation guidance for Article 32 preliminary hearings. The Navy was first, with ALNAV 086/14 (“New Article 32, UCMJ, Preliminary Hearing Procedures”), issued on December 22, 2104. The Army recently followed suit, with Army Directive 2015-09 (“Implementation of Section 1702 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014-Article 32, Uniform Code of Military Justice Preliminary Hearing”), issued on February 24, 2015. Update: A reader passed along the AFLOA/JAJM Article 32 Preliminary Hearing Officer’s Guide dated December 23, 2014, which contains similar guidance for the Air Force (though not from the Secretarial level).
These issuances generally conform to the new statutory language of Article 32, and they are in some ways inconsistent with the existing R.C.M. 405. For example, both of the issuances allow a Preliminary Hearing Officer to consider “other evidence, in addition to or in lieu of witness testimony. . . ” ¶ 3.(i)(3)(B), ALNAV 086/14; ¶ 10.c.(2), Encl. 1, ARMY DIR 2015-09. However, R.C.M. 405(g)(4) limits the ability to consider alternatives to testimony, and R.C.M. 405(g)(5) limits the ability to consider alternatives to evidence.
I think that the authority of a Service Secretary to issue substantive rules that are contrary to the Rules for Courts-Martial is dubious, and I note that “if an accused is deprived of a substantial pretrial right on timely objection, he is entitled to judicial enforcement of his right, without regard to whether such enforcement will benefit him at the trial.” United States v. Murray, 25 M.J. 445, 447 (C.M.A. 1988) (quoting United States v. Ragan, 33 C.M.R. 331, 336 (C.M.A. 1963) (quoting United States v. Mickel, 26 C.M.R. 104, 107 (C.M.A. 1958))). It will be interesting to see how the appellate courts address any objections to the ALNAV and the ARMY DIR.